The Gift of the Breath

by Carol Hendershot

“Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes
If it were always a fist or always stretched open
You would be paralyzed
Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding
As beautifully balanced as birdwings” Rumi

I remember the first time I felt my breath. No, it wasn’t as a child in my mother’s arms or even as a young adult; it was in some nondescript moment, sitting on my sofa, simply breathing in and breathing out and feeling the soothing comfort of my breath. That was a big AHA moment for me because I realized that by working with the breath I could change my entire experience of life.

The Breath is an Amazing Gift

The breath is an amazing gift; a compact microcosm of the pulsation that pervades the entire universe. With its ability to function both as a voluntary and involuntary part of our nervous system, the breath becomes the bridge between the conscious and unconscious. The breath has the potential to soothe and comfort us, to alert us to danger, to make us aware of changes in our world, and to bring us back home to ourselves. As gas is to a car, electricity is to a light bulb, or wind is to a windmill, the breath is our energy system. It is the animating force that allows us to survive and to thrive.

We can move through a whole day and the breath will take care of itself without any conscious effort on our part. The breath deepens with exertion, softens as we drift off to sleep, and may even stop to protect us from danger. It will automatically respond to every emotion, becoming more subtle when we are content, constricting in our throats when we are afraid, or quickening with passion.

The breath can also be a trusted friend we can call on to soothe our anxiety, to calm our anger, or to energize us for the challenges ahead. 

In the tradition of yoga, the word for breath is “prana,” and it is no less than the life force and our connection to spirit. We see this connection expressed in many ancient cultures where the word for breath and spirit are the same. In Greek, it is “psyche pneuma,” in Japanese, “ki,” Chinese, “chi,” and in Hebrew, “Ruach.”

Balanced Breath, Balanced Mind

Just as focus and concentration are cultivated through sustained attention, and the heart expanded through loving-kindness and compassion, the breath can be strengthened to balance all of the systems of the body and mind through sustained practice. When we work with the breath, we are expanding our capacity for equanimity.

In the Reclaim Your Wholeness Class we will be exploring the power of the body’s energy system. By attending to the breath in its natural state, we will get to know it and ourselves more fully. By consciously working with the breath, we will be creating an inner environment that will be helpful in calming the body, mind, and heart. And from this vantage point, we can begin to see more clearly the truth of how things are and how we are.

Clear-seeing naturally leads to other powerful strengths such as emotional resilience in the face of adversity and the ability to skillfully respond instead of unskillfully react to the many ups and downs of life. It’s so amazing and so sweet what can be accomplished simply by working with our breath.

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